20 pro-social ways to build community and belonging in the classroom. By Kay Sidebottom @KaySocLearn

Last week, on the night of the EU referendum, I hosted #ukfechat on the topic of how to ‘educate out hate’.  The subject felt important, but at the time I didn’t realise just how significant it would be.  Three days on and we are in worrying times; hate crime is on the rise, politicians have no idea about a way forward and more people than ever are feeling disenfranchised and voiceless.

My questions were difficult ones.  How can we foster a sense of belonging and community?  What am I doing to foster a sense of belonging and community in my classes?  How am I preparing my students to play a positive part in a globalised and diverse world?  How am I enabling my students to express their views and respect the views of others?

Excitingly, the responses came in thick and fast.  I’ve posted them here, sharing the Twitter handles of our contributors so that we can continue to join together and share what we do, for affirmative action and change.

1. Start every lesson with a Thinking Round where each student answers a positive question in turn.  It could be something as simple as, ‘What made you smile today?’ It’s a simple one, but be rigorous about the rules; no interrupting, the person speaking can speak for as long as they need, listen with attention, keep your eyes on the person talking. (@KaySocLearn)

2. Learn names quickly and ensure that your students do too (@NickyCHawkins)

3. Emphasise the need to always listen when you or a student is speaking (@elenchera)

4. Don’t ignore or bat off the tricky things that come up.  Open up dialogue, instead of shutting it down (@dianatremayne)

5. Show an interest in what every student is doing at the moment (@david_c_ball)

6. Use icebreakers that are easeful and facilitate familiarity, not ones that put students on the spot.   Great ideas here http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/classroom-icebreakers/ (@NickyCHawkins)

7. Encourage students to ask why and question everything (particularly the media) (@_mrs_b)

8. Use inquiry-based learning approaches where students create and answer their own questions about a topic (not yours). Helps to remove your own opinions from the equation.

9. Promote resilience by letting students know it’s fine to make mistakes (and share your own). Acknowledging your own weaknesses will help to build relationships (@treezyoung)

10. Use small group work where every student gets a chance to contribute.  If you work with really large group try a tool like Poll Everywhere where students can join in on their mobiles. (@LibTeach19)

11. Explore the global dimensions of diversity by skyping a class in another country or hosting an international Twitter chat (@BCUPGCEPCET)

12. Use a ‘boat of talk’ (or any object – get your students to choose it!) for paired discussions.  Only the person holding the ‘boat’ can speak at that time (@NickyCHawkins)

13. Get students to laugh together. It’s good glue (@tstarkey1212)

14. Be explicit that what you are doing is actually critical pedagogy; and make the most of directives such as Fundamental British Values to implement new transformative teaching approaches. (@KaySocLearn)

15. Start a lesson with ‘One good thing’ where each student shares something positive that’s happened since the class were last together (@mrssarahsimons)

16. At the start of term have LOTS of introductions. Encourage students to work with anyone in the group (@judeng)

17. Encourage students to tell their stories.  Whatever those stories may be on a particular given day (@paulw_learn)

18. Share stuff about you too. What football team you support, what music you like, what you did at the weekend… (my mum!)

19. Use restorative practice approaches to manage conflict or behaviour issues. More info here http://www.transformingconflict.org/content/restorative-approaches-educational-settings  (@karlosjnr)

20. Talk about the ‘fundamental British values’ agenda with students and get them to articulate what it means.  If British feels uncomfortable, try Universal Values (great resource kit here by NAS/UWT) (@EqualiTeach)

The line in the sand by Jayne Stigger @fossa99

Over the past twenty or so years, the employment landscape has changed dramatically. Jobs that didn’t exist then are now commonplace, new jobs we haven’t even thought of are being developed and the old notion of a ‘job for life’ has thankfully vanished. 

Skills that are in demand must be our focus and even more important, skills that will be in demand in five or ten years must be planned for now. People of all ages need to have access to training to ensure their continued employability and for our economic success. Every change to the focus of FE has moved us further towards business and training and further from academic qualifications. See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/2010-to-2015-government-policy-further-education-and-training/2010-to-2015-government-policy-further-education-and-training

FE’s remit on Gov.uk is “The further education (FE) system – the colleges and training providers that teach vocational qualifications and skills – needs to guarantee students high quality teaching and courses to help students into jobs or university and create the skilled workforce employers need.” 

The AoC say:
Further education colleges provide high quality technical and professional education and training for young people, adults and employers. They prepare almost three million students with valuable employability skills, helping to develop their career opportunities.

Sixth form colleges provide high-quality academic education to 16 to 18-year-olds enabling them to progress to university or higher level vocational education.

We are not the same, yet, in FE, many still stick to the same old Gold standard courses such as A levels and GCSE as our headline figures to attract new students. The A levels don’t bring as much funding and nor are they are brief, but they are still the headline figures quoted to attract students. If FE is vocational and business oriented why are we judging each other and selling ourselves to learners based on an antiquated measure? Why are we are still cramming our websites and prospectus documents with ’99.5% A-C A levels’ quotations and the stock images of university type students leaping into the air, brandishing their certificates. Why don’t we advertise our prowess in vocational courses to the same extent? We are either trying to be all things to all people, or we haven’t fully embraced our purpose. 

An FE prospectus looks a bit like a TK Maxx shop. Everything you can cram in is there, and hidden away in every department there are gems of real value but there is too much. We want to be known for our supportive SEND programmes, for our 16-18 achievement, for educating adults, for our HE provision, for our work with employers, for our apprenticeships, for our academic excellence, for our brilliant technology, for our Equality, for our ethnic diversity and for saving so many students who have been badly served in schools. We are rightly proud of our inclusivity. Inclusivity comes at a cost though. Funding issues and curriculum changes mean that we no longer have the capacity to give everyone what they need. Teaching hours are reduced, more learning is independent and online, trips to industry and even basic practical experiences are reduced in some places.

So why aren’t we focussing on our remit?

In 1992, FE voted to support incorporation and become financially independent. This changed the focus of FE from education to business but our mind set is still twenty years old. So why don’t we accept the challenge instead of weaving around it? Why don’t we declare ourselves to be the focus of employment opportunities? Why don’t we focus on developing employment skills through our fabulous vocational programmes and get students the skills they need now, and in the future? Why don’t we let the academic side go to the Sixth Forms and Sixth Form Colleges and focus fully on our remit? Is there still a residual snobbery around vocational education that somehow, we are ‘town’ and not ‘gown’, even within the FE sector itself?

I’m not suggesting for one moment that we start pronking our way across the educational landscape. That type of protectionist attitude is not conducive to good practice, nor is it financially sensible in such restrictive times. FE should be an open and welcoming landscape, not a series of enclaves. My suggestion is that after twenty plus years of independence,  FE recognises that the world has changed and if we wish to be known as centres of excellence, we embrace vocational education wholeheartedly and stop trying to hang onto every possible opportunity before National Colleges and UTC’s take our vocational strands too. It is time to draw a line in the sand, and concentrate on what we do best.

If FE, our economy and our students, are to thrive and not just survive, then this is not just our choice, it is our responsibility.

It’s the final countdown! By Patrice Miller @patricemiller_

It is that time of year again. Daffodils. Yellow. April. Rain. Extended evenings. Warmer days. Exams.  This academic year alone I have marked close to two hundred GCSE English controlled assessments. A change in workplace meant that I have had to learn the IGCSE English language and literature specification in a matter of weeks. I am having to take through students I’ve known for less than six weeks, through formal exams.  Please someone feel sorry for me. 

Now my drama queen moment is over I want to reveal the real thorn in my flesh. I am struggling. Exam season is fast approaching and I want to ensure my students are in the best possible position to not only approach their exams with minimum stress but feel confident enough to do well. I have been taking students through formal exams for a few years now and I feel just as nervous as I did the first time round. I want my learners to do better this year. I want them to enjoy the revision period. I need them to achieve. In order to do that I will be encouraging and teaching my students to make to achieve this. 

Use previous exam papers from the awarding body to practise exam skills

I am a firm believer in practise makes perfect. However, in the case of exam practise, exposure to past papers make learners wiser, prepared and more confident. They have the opportunity to recognise and identify any patterning in the way questions are asked. It provides a chance to describe, compare, infer and explain terminology, presentational features or layouts that would have been studied throughout the course. It also gives students the opportunity to measure their exam strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. My mantra is, “past papers are your best resource” (Cottrell, pg.310). 

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail

For the benefit of my blood pressure, I would like to believe that my students have put together some kind of personal revision timetable in order to prepare for exams. Adequate planning needs to include scheduling of a specific time to fulfil revision commitments. It would break my heart if as a fly on the wall I saw one of my learners revise a piece of unseen poetry the week before their exam. Set a homework activity or a tutorial session to encourage learners to create a personal and unique exam timetable with SMART achievements for each session. 

“I could not finish the paper; I ran out of time”

The very words I hate to hear. Modern technology has created an environment that depends on students typing nearly everything that they write. Whether it is an email, instant messaging, controlled assessment they write without a pen. I have often questioned their ability to write at speed within given time frames. Do we give our students adequate time to practise speed writing? It is a question worth asking. I plan to develop my learners handwriting skills in my lessons leading up to their exams because Office Word will not save them. 

These are just a few exam tips that I will be teaching and developing with my learners as we cross over into exam season. I know there are an abundance of exam essentials that we often teach at this time of year. Do you have any tips to share? 

Dr Stella Cottrell, 2008. The Study Skills Handbook (Palgrave Study Skills). 3rd Revised edition Edition. Palgrave Macmillan.  

A review of The Education and Training Foundation 2014-15 by Carolyn O'Connor @Clyn40

The other week I had the opportunity to meet with Mike Harwood from theEducation and Training Foundation. This meeting was a chance for myself as aSET member to ask about keys areas in the report I had received late December 2015.

The areas I quizzed Mike over were as follows –

Maths and English

The ETF has been offering Maths and English enhancement course for practitioners. I attended one myself last year. I have to say it was worth attending, it helped me look at the differences between GCSE and Functional Skills. Further on they are now spearheading a reform on functional skills (seehere for further information). What I wanted to know was what support could be given to not just ensure good quality teaching was delivered to the students, but what they were going to do about the pressure FE has to churn out results at lightening speed. Nobody wants to teach to the test but the funding pressure is immense and many teachers are feeling the strain. Mike explained he understood this having taught in the sector for many years himself. The ETF want to improve the standard of maths and English and this would include how it needs to be taught.


The ETF are investing in leadership (see here) so I asked how would developing existing leaders help those of us on the ‘shop  floor’? How will we benefit? FE is renowned for having too many middle leaders. Mike explained that it would be about developing their leadership skills and would in turn have a positive impact on the rest of the staff team. There is also going to be something developed for teachers own leadership skills within the classroom. In addition the ETF will be looking at supporting staff that wish to progress into leadership roles.

Support is also being given to leaders by the ETF during these Area Reviews. Focusing on checking standards and ways to ensure they are at the very best level. Furthermore there is support for all professionals  via SET.

Support for practitioners

One of the many areas the ETF are offering support for is using technology (see here) for teaching and learning. The ETF have used the recommendations fromFELTAG and are now working alongside JISC to support this in FE. I asked Mike would this mean they would be looking at the real key issues for us, as in time to explore the technology we are given? Furthermore, whatever we use is not simply a fancy gimmick that ticks the technology box. Mike said they were looking at running CPD courses in conjunction with the online ones they offer. He was onboard with what I was saying and agreed that time to experiment was vital if it was going to be used to support teaching and learning. He also took note of what type of training format would be best for these potential courses. All we want as teachers is to have access to a range resources and time to experiment using them.  Also we need more autonomy in what we use, after all we know our students better than anyone!


QTLS has always been a bone of contention for me and I know for many other FE teachers too. So I wanted to know how the ETF were doing with this one. I have written about this before in a past post (see here). Mike says that they are aware that the IFL’s process was not overly popular. Therefore the ETF have taken feedback from practitioners and are working on strengthening the value of QTLS as well as the process. They hope to have a more robust and worthy form of QTLS by 2016.

Finally Mike also went on to discuss apprenticeships, due to a big shift in focus on them by the government. If you wish to read more on what support is being given for apprenticeship and training see here.


I am grateful to  Mike for giving me his time to discuss this review report, and for David Russell for offering me the opportunity to discuss it with an ETF representative. I am left feeling quite positive about ETF and SET compared to over a year ago. There is still a long way to go to help raise the professional status of FE and other lifelong learning establishments, but the ETF are clearly moving forward on this.

A few thoughts on Twitter by Anon

(Trigger Warning: This gets a bit Jerry Maguire towards the end)

Twitter is, in the words of the Apostle of the apocalypse, 'the cage of every unclean and hateful bird'. It's a pitiful wasteland strewn with the desolation of a debauched culture. It's a cesspool festering with the putrid stench of the worst that humanity can secrete. It's full of bilge-water polluted with the mind-dregs of braggarts and bottom-feeders.

But I like it. And you knew all that already. And you're probably, like me, sticking it out for now in hope that its promise might be fulfilled.

One of the primary reasons I'm still mutilating my opinions and ideas into 140-character pith is in the hope of engaging with the myriad edu-tweeters who bring so much insight and wisdom to the (bird)table. When it's good, it's fabulous. Don't you think?

I've been challenged again and again to consider why I do what I do, to think about what's truly best for my students and to check my biases. (I've checked them: they all seem fine). I've reconsidered my use of textbooks and card sorts, I've mused on the claims of Ed-tech evangelists, and I've begun - tentatively - to reengage with academic work in the field. All this thanks not to Twitter itself, but to each of the genuine folks whose twopenneth has, in the aggregate, enabled me to repurchase some of the early joys of believing what I'm doing actually makes a difference.

There is a remarkable range of professional voices on Twitter. There are teachers of every type of student; every age, every culture, every personality. The dialectic produced by these voices (especially in disagreement) is thus of substantial value to us all. Iron sharpeneth iron, you know. We get to question and probe, cajole and conclude. This is the edu-Twitter I'd like to encourage. This is the edu-Twitter I'd like to be part of. You?

But, all of this is preamble. What I really want to do is proffer a simple word of personal concern. 

My concern is that there seems to be a growing incidence of teachers and educationalists on the platform trying to push one another off. Given the trains presently hurtling down the track at us all (Govian goalpost relocation, KS2 literacy targets, FE funding cuts, the Prevent duty, Ofsted, etc.) this is unwarranted collateral damage, in my view.  You can help yourself of course; we're all grown ups here. But let's not forget that the profession has its back to the wall and for the most part its not the fault of the teachers themselves.

Now, I'm in favour of the public sphere being intellectually unsafe. Safe spaces include my house, and my car and that's about it. I expect - no, I welcome - the challenges of thought that Twitter is so well placed to provoke. By thought we grow. This is what I try to inculcate into my students and it's what I hope to gain from being on Twitter. But – and this may strike you as being overly simplistic - you don’t have to be a doofus. It puts people off in a way that is ultimately self-defeating.

For example, the traditional / progressive debate is of fundamental importance to the future of education in this country and I adjure everyone to engage with it. No one should back down from their views and those with the most to say should speak with authority and clarity. But I’ll confess to you that there have been similar debates from which I've refrained because I don’t want to suffer the backlash of having an unpopular (or worse, incomplete) view. My own pusillanimity aside, I'm quite sure this feeling is not unique to me, and it behoves those who are established, capable and knowledgeable in a given field to create a Twitter environment fit for learning. You know, like a teacher would.

And so to the peroration, with which you’re welcome to disagree.

If your goal is to become ‘Twitter-famous’ (which of course means ‘not-famous-at-all’), then there are ways and means. It’s not that difficult, but it is kind of pointless. If you’re interested in being part of a twitter culture that values teacher development for the sake of our students and pupils, then I’m very simply and candidly asking you to consider how this is best achieved. 

Perhaps, all that can ultimately be said is that if you want to engage in discussion with me under the wings of the blessed blue dove, then I’m happy do so in a spirit of critical collaboration rather than self-aggrandizement, petty mud-slinging and diatribe.

If you are into that sort of thing there's always Breitbart and Kanye.